Pirate's breakfast
Pirate's breakfast

They ate corned beef and biscuits, drank the blood of polar bears, ate huge green turtles, and the only pleasure was a portion of alcohol.

What did you eat on the ships? Was the diet of a sailor different from that of a pirate? How was the food prepared? How was it kept? So many questions about a seemingly mundane subject like food.

Anyone who decided to link his fate with the sea had to be extremely unassuming about everyday life, and this applied to any ship: in the military, the main place was given to weapons and various equipment for waging sea battles, and on a merchant ship - to goods. They remembered a simple sailor in the very last place, he had only crumbs and cracks that were not busy with anything else. Of course, on different courts in different countries at different times there were different orders, but still there was something in common. Usually the sailors had meals twice a day during the shift between the shifts. Three meals a day was practiced, as a rule, on large warships of regular fleets. The diet was extremely monotonous and meager, usually it was corned beef, peas, beans and biscuits, less often - fish and other marine life (for example, sea turtles) that could be caught. During long voyages, especially transatlantic ones, peas and beans quickly deteriorated and then the diet was reduced to a one-time meal, and it consisted of corned beef and biscuits, often moldy and wormy.

Exquemelin reports that sailors and pirates sailing in the waters of the West Indies sometimes took on their ship one or two Indians - excellent fishermen. Even one such Indian was able to supply the whole team with fish and turtles.

To add at least some variety to food, sailors sometimes ground biscuits into crumbs, mixed them with lard and sugar, and slightly diluted all this with sea water (less often with fresh water). It turned out to be a sweet-salty food, which the sailors dried in the sun in the form of flat cakes or sausages and called "dog biscuits" because outwardly it resembled dog feces.

The biscuits were made from unleavened dough completely without salt, in order to at least slightly compensate for the large amount of it in corned beef. The corned beef aroused a strong thirst, and the drinking water on the ship was worth its weight in gold. The thirst gradually increased, because the longer the swimming went, the less varied food remained and the more corned beef had to be eaten. Water also ran out and had to sharply limit its delivery, because if a person could exist without food for a relatively long time, then he could not do without water. Thirst exhausted the crew both physically and mentally, sometimes pushing people to rash acts, this led to a general decline in discipline and even to riots. Fresh water, which was kept in barrels, within a few weeks after sailing, became musty, and then completely rotted, becoming brown and thick; according to a contemporary of Admiral Nelson, she acquired "the color of a pear tree with many worms and weevils." But there was nowhere to go, and she had to drink it even like that, being tormented by stomachs and risking getting sick with dysentery or typhus.

Modern biscuits are made from wheat flour, but you should not assume that they have always been so. Let's remember the periodic famines in medieval Europe, which were associated with the Little Ice Age. Wheat is thermophilic and very susceptible to weather fluctuations, was it before? In his "Explanatory Marine Dictionary", published in St. Petersburg in 1874, the famous Russian sea captain V. Bakhtin writes that "biscuit is a rusk of rye or wheat flour, used on the ships of the sailing fleet in the absence of bread." But this is already the second half of the 19th century, and even earlier in Europe no one relied on wheat. The main food in the sea was black rye bread in the form of biscuits and crackers. As on land, bread was almost ubiquitous.

By the way, about bread. A fairly clear pattern can be traced: the less meat was eaten in Europe, the more they "leaned" on bread and crackers. By the beginning of the 16th century, bread began to gradually replace meat. At first, the process was very slow, but then it gained momentum. For example, in Germany from the 14th to the 18th century, meat consumption decreased seven times. According to the calculations of the German economist Abel, the average meat consumption curve began to simply collapse since the 1550s. It was even worse in France. Professor Madeleine Ferrier wrote that “the food situation among the French, and indeed Europeans in general, began to deteriorate from the middle of the sixteenth century. Butchers, so numerous in the southwest in the late Middle Ages, began to play a minimal role in urban life. The town of Monpeza de Quercy had eighteen butchers in 1550, ten in 1556, six in 1641, two in 1660 and one in 1763. " Due to the reduction in meat consumption, people began to consume more bread. And the French, according to Ferrier, became "the world's biggest bread eaters." Therefore, taking into account the epidemics of the "fire of St. Anthony" that immediately followed due to the high consumption of bread, everything became very bad.

The reader will ask: what kind of lights are these? Today this disease is called "ergotism", and earlier - "fire plague" or "fires of St. Anthony." She was accompanied by hallucinations and convulsions, ultimately the case ended in death. This disease was caused by ergot, a genus of fungi that parasitizes some cereals, including rye and wheat. Unfortunately, microbiology did not exist then, and our ancestors had a very vague idea of how to deal with ergot. The most effective means was the wind in which the grain was separated from the husk, on which the ergot bred. But the trend all the same did not give one hundred percent result. Professor and Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences L. Milov wrote in one of his works that “it is impossible to separate a grain of rye from ergot by a single trend. Ergot flour is bluish, dark, and smells bad. The dough from it also spreads, and the bread falls apart. " But the rye flour on the ships was the same as on the shore. And the sailors were poisoned with ergot toxins just like their land compatriots. Hence the disease, and visions of all kinds of "sea devils", "sea serpents" and other monsters. It is possible that under the hallucinogenic effect of ergot, the sailors had such visions that they jumped overboard in horror, and part of the legends about the "Flying Dutchman" is explained by this. In any case, among the versions about the death of "Mary Celeste" in 1872, ergot poisoning has surfaced more than once.

It is possible that under the hallucinogenic effect of ergot, the sailors had such visions that they jumped overboard in horror, and part of the legends about the "Flying Dutchman" is explained by this
It is possible that under the hallucinogenic effect of ergot, the sailors had such visions that they jumped overboard in horror, and part of the legends about the "Flying Dutchman" is explained by this

Perhaps the point is in the provisions: they sailed there from the European, and back - already with the Indian provisions. The cause of death of the crew was scurvy, or "sea scourge": the sick swollen and bleeding gums, loosened and fallen out teeth, swollen and painful joints, the body was covered with dark spots. A certain Karl Friedrich Behrens, being the commander of the Marine Corps, accompanied the Dutchman Roggeven on his voyage to the South Sea in 1721 in his memoirs "The Proven Southerner" describes scurvy as follows:

“This miserable life cannot be described with a pen. The ships smelled of sick and dead. One could get sick from the smell alone. The patients moaned and screamed plaintively. Even a stone would not remain indifferent to this. Some were so emaciated and wrinkled from scurvy that they were the visible form of death. These people were dying, extinguishing quietly like candles. Others, on the other hand, were swollen and swollen. These, before death, began to rage. Some of them had bloody diarrhea … There were also many suffering from mental disorders. No medicine would help here, except for fresh food, both meat and vegetable - greens, fruits, rutabagas and other vegetables … Each of us had scurvy. My teeth were almost completely exposed from the gums, and the gums themselves were swollen to a finger thick. Nodules larger than a hazelnut appeared on the arms and on the body."

However, for Europeans, scurvy was not a novelty, and not only sailors were familiar with it. Until the XX century, no one knew what "vitamin deficiency" and lack of vitamin "C" (from which scurvy occurs). The remedy for scurvy was found empirically: as soon as the ship touched the ground, where there was plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, which the sailors pounced on with greed, the scurvy retreated.

Modern authors write that, they say, sailors began to store fruits and juices for sailing. For example, this is how the journey of the famous navigator James Cook (1728-1779) is described, who allegedly "took stocks of carrot and lemon juices with him on his travels." I, however, have big doubts on this score: how did he manage to keep them from souring in an age of complete absence of preservatives and complete ignorance about the causes of decay processes? Let me remind you that for the first time this was realized only in 1795 by the Frenchman Nicolas François Apper, who was the first to develop the principle of canning food for the Napoleonic army. Upper in his research relied on the polemics of two scientists: the Irishman Needham, who argued that microbes arise from inanimate matter, and the Italian Spallanzani, who argued that each microbe has its own progenitor. Neither the Irish nor the Italian managed to solve in practice what Upper took almost 10 years of experiments to finally bless humanity with such a fundamental discovery as canning.

In addition to dubious "juices", Cook took with him dozens of barrels of sauerkraut, writing in his diary that "sauerkraut expels diseases from the body. It is a life-saving tool for my sailors. " But sauerkraut was by no means a panacea! With daily use, it quickly annoyed the crew and "aroused the sailors no less disgust than corned beef." In addition, from daily consumption in large quantities, she "relaxed the stomachs" and the crew was plagued by diarrhea, which in no way improved the sanitary condition of the ship and its crew.

It is noteworthy that, according to the notes of Roald Amundsen, during their voyage on the schooner "Joa" (1903), they escaped scurvy by drinking fresh blood of polar bears and walruses. I think that this "recipe" was known to the Norwegians - the descendants of the ancient Vikings - long before Amundsen.

Norwegians should also give the palm in the invention of such a purely sailor dish as "labskaus", which means "easily swallowed" in Norwegian. After all, as a rule, almost the entire crew suffered from scurvy, and the cook had to prepare such food that could be eaten even with loose teeth and swollen gums. "Labskaus" consisted of finely chopped boiled corned beef, mixed with ground herring and then crushed into a liquid porridge.

The main question over which our ancestors racked their brains was the problem of how to preserve food during a long hike. We already know that corned beef and biscuits were the main diet on long voyages off the coast. That is, something that could be stored for a relatively long time. By the way, biscuits are actually the same crackers, hard as stone. It was impossible to gnaw them just like that, so they were soaked in water, wine or rum. However, sometimes real delicacies appeared in the sailors' lunch ration. So, sailing ships sailing across the Indian Ocean tried to visit the waters of the Seychelles, where huge green turtles were found in abundance. These giant reptiles weighing up to 200 kg were incredibly tenacious and could go for weeks without food or water. They were loaded into the hold by the hundreds as "live canned food", which allowed the crew to feast on tender turtle meat for a long time.

On ships sailing to the West Indies, "pemmican", borrowed from the Indians in the 16th century, became widespread - a hardened paste made from buffalo or deer meat, berries, maple molasses or fat, dried in the sun and crushed into powder. European sailors simplified the pemmican preparation technology and simply mixed the beef with fat.

Oddly enough, but in Europe for a long time did not know that food can be stored frozen for a long time. One of the first to guess about this was the English philosopher and Lord Chancellor of England Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Putting his experiments and studying the effect of cold as a means for preserving meat (Bacon stuffed chicken carcasses with snow), he caught a cold, got pneumonia and died.

Canned food in the form in which we are used to seeing them (in cans) appeared for the first time in France relatively recently - in the 19th century - thanks to the already mentioned Apper. England quickly appreciated this invention, bought a patent from the French, and in 1826 began to supply its army and navy with Upper's canned goods. True, a can opener had not yet been invented (it will be invented after almost 30 years), and at first the soldiers opened cans with a hammer and chisel, since the walls of the cans were very thick and an ordinary knife did not take them. The first canned goods were received by the crews of the ships of the British fleet. True, even here at first there were some troubles. Unscrupulous contractors in the preparation of canned food often used stale meat that smelled like a corpse, so the British, who always had a special love for the French (especially after the war with Napoleon), gave the eloquent nickname “dead Frenchman” to canned meat.

The only pleasure in the sailor's diet was a daily portion of alcohol, without which it was impossible to survive in the harsh conditions of a long sea voyage. Wine has been included in the ship menu since ancient times, even slaves on triremes and liburns received it. Columbus, equipping his caravels for the great expedition, saved on everything except wine - oak barrels filled the largest holds with him. By the way, a wine barrel with a capacity of 1000 liters in the Middle Ages was called "ton", hence the name of the measure of the vessel's carrying capacity and the unit of mass. In the 16th century, rum was invented, which was the best suited for long voyages due to its cheapness and the content of some amount of vitamin "C" in it, which helped to cope with scurvy.

But still a sad sailor legend says that "the sea became salty from the tears shed by people for their earthly life." It is impossible to use sea water for drinking, but it, consumed in small quantities, turned out to be life-giving and healing. The old sea wolves knew this and during a long voyage they sometimes diluted their drink by one third with sea water. Thor Heyerdahl did the same during his trip to the Kon-Tiki across the Pacific Ocean.


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